Wednesday, 15 January 2014

The Loire - Day 4

Wednesday 11th
It was another early start and temperatures had plummeted over night to -8˚C!  We were driving 130kms west towards Bourges and the appellation of Menetou Salon to meet a new producer Bernard Minchin. Bernard is quite a character and his beaming smile and energy certainly livened up the frosty morning! Bernard’s grandfather had worked vines since before the war in both appellations of Valencay east of Bourges and Menetou Salon to the north-east.  Bernard took control of the domaine in 2004 and nothing but quality was in his mind from the word go. Stunning wines throughout the range we tasted and yet another winemaker to watch for!

Bernard Minchin
The final leg of the Loire wine trek was now in sight and we were on our way north east to Bué, a small village in the Sancerre Appellation. A Narnia world of fields of frost finally gave way to the spectacular steep côteaux of the Sancerre vineyards.  

At the very top of the central, windy road in the heart of Bué we met characterful Joel Cirotte of Domaine de La Croix St Laurent. Joel works the domaine’s vines and makes the wine with his wife Sylvie, daughter Marie and his son Fabien who also brings experience from New Zealand to the family estate. Although based in the Sancerre Cru of Bué the Cirotte family have vineyards in nearby Crezancy and the slopes of Sancerre itself. 

Micro-cuvees is the name of the game here, each tiny parcel being carefully vinified apart to make either a single wine or to be part of a complex blend. A classy winemaker … and it looks like the close friendship with Alphonse Mellot has rubbed off on this tiny estate.
Joel Cirotte
A wonderful lunch was laid on by Sylvie in the cosy, thatched family cottage, lovely wines finished with some delightful local goat cheeses.
Before heading to Sancerre village itself we took a small stop in another world famous appellation: Pouilly-Fume!

Christophe Denoel at the Caves de Pouilly has done wonders for the growers by introducing new winemaking techniques, vinification and bottling facilities. This has filled the missing link and the wines produced are of the highest quality. It’s no surprise that we have been buying from them ever since this revolution and the cave is now home to two of our top selling wines: the Larmes de Pierre and Les Rochettes. The 2013s were no disappointment and quality is high across the board.

However, before leaving Pouilly-Fume there is one place which is a must visit: the legendary Domaine Didier Dagueneau. Since Didier’s tragic death in 2008, the domaine has been run with the same high standards by his talented son-and-daughter team, Louis-Benjamin and Charlotte.  We were fortunate to have a personal tour by Charlotte and we tasted a range of recent vintages including 2012s from vat. Incredible wines and an unforgettable tasting experience.

Charlotte Dagueneau
Sancerre next and the amazing amphitheatre of vineyards with the village itself sitting on the crest of the famous hill were soon insight.  After Dagueneau there is only one place to go next and that’s to taste the exquisite wines of Domaine Alphonse Mellot!

The Domaine Alphonse Mellot is located in the heart of the Sancerre village and has a quite extraordinary history, celebrating 500 years of winemaking this year! The current winemakers Alphonse Jr and his sister Emmanuelle are the 19th generation! They continue to push boundaries in all aspects of winemaking and the immaculate cellars and wines show this clearly.

We were met by Emmanuelle Mellot for a quick tour of the underground maze of barrels and fermentation cellars before being joined by Alphonse Jr and getting onto the serious work of the tasting.  We were extremely privileged to have an extensive range tasting of the 2011, 2012 and 2013’s. For me, the most impressive are the rich, concentrated barrel-aged Pinot Noirs … unlike anything I have ever tried from Sancerre before.

Alphonse and Emmanuelle
Now dark outside, the day was far from over as we drove back down from Sancerre to see a couple of good value Sancerre producers in the village of Verdigny.  First we popped into Domaine Raimbault-Pineau. Jean-Marie is a true farmer and seems to have his fingers in all sorts of pies. His chaotic winery with vats of wines everywhere is a real treasure trove; you just have to find the gems! We get to taste all the 2013’s here and we certainly found some good and well priced wines.

Jean-Marie Raimbaut
Just round the corner in the same village are Domaine Daniel Reverdy and our good friend Cyrille Reverdy who is now running his father’s domaine. This is an amazing story: Abi found this ambitious young winemaker 10 years ago. Neither he nor his father had ever put any of their grapes into bottle as they were part of the cooperative. That was until young Cyrille made an experimental vat in a makeshift winery. Abi bought the wine and 10 years on Cyrille is making magnificent and successful Sancerre and we are the only wine merchant who gets our very own blend!  He has also, for the first time, added a lovely limited-production rosé to his repertoire. And yes, we snapped this up there and then. All of it! 

It had been a long day and laptops, iPhones, BlackBerries and cameras were battery-less as we headed back up to the village to meet the other half of the Mellot family at Domaine Joseph Mellot.  The tasting was scheduled for early tomorrow which meant we could check into the Hotel Panoramic perched on the crest of the hill of Sancerre, but we would have to wait until tomorrow to see the spectacular views.  Olivier the sales manager and winemaker Frederic met us in the lobby and kindly invited us to dine with them and domaine owner Catherine Mellot at the exquisite restaurant La Tour, 100m from the hotel.

No comments: